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Character and Mourning

Woolf, Faulkner, and the Novel Elegy of the First World War
Erin Penner

BUY Cloth · 242 pp. · 6 × 9 · ISBN 9780813942964 · $59.50 · Jul 2019
BUY Paper · 242 pp. · 6 × 9 · ISBN 9780813942971 · $29.50 · Jul 2019
BUY Ebook · 242 pp. · ISBN 9780813942988 · $59.50 · Jul 2019

In response to the devastating trauma of World War I, British and American authors wrote about grief. The need to articulate loss inspired moving novels by Virginia Woolf and William Faulkner. Woolf criticized the role of Britain in the "war to end all wars," and Faulkner recognized in postwar France a devastation of land and people he found familiar from his life in a Mississippi still recovering from the American Civil War. In Character and Mourning, Erin Penner shows how these two modernist novelists took on the challenge of rewriting the literature of mourning for a new and difficult era.

Faulkner and Woolf address the massive war losses from the perspective of the noncombatant, thus reimagining modern mourning. By refusing to let war poets dominate the larger cultural portrait of the postwar period, these novelists negotiated a relationship between soldiers and civilians—a relationship that was crucial once the war had ended. Highlighting their sustained attention to elegiac reinvention over the course of their writing careers—from Jacob’s Room to The Waves, from The Sound and the Fury to Go Down, Moses—Penner moves beyond biographical and stylistic differences to recognize Faulkner and Woolf’s shared role in reshaping elegiac literature in the period following the First World War.


Character and Mourning is a pleasure to read throughout; the readings are consistently illuminating, and the comparative discussion of the elegiac novels of Woolf and Faulkner is original and expands our understanding of their work in substantial ways.

Patrick O'Donnell, Michigan State University, author of A Temporary Future: The Fiction of David Mitchell

Intelligent, perceptive, and elegantly written, Character and Mourning makes an important contribution to our understanding of genre theory and modernism.

Michael Gorra, Smith College, author of Portrait of a Novel: Henry James and the Making of An American Masterpiece

About the Author(s): 

Erin Penner is Associate Professor of English at Asbury University.

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